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Originally posted on the USDOL Blog Page on May 10, 2015.   
Written by Eric Seleznow, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Employment and Training Administration

The words mom, veteran and professional welder aren’t words that often go together, except when you’re talking about Kelli Gilliam, successful mother of four and the first woman to be general foreman for hull trades at Newport News Shipbuilding. As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, Kelli’s story, and countless others are a testament to the importance that small opportunities can transform lives.

Kelli’s path to a shipbuilding apprenticeship is all about resilience and beating the odds. She went from living in a shelter with her two young children to transforming her life through an apprenticeship – which offered her an opportunity to earn wages while she learned new skills.

Prior to her apprenticeship, Kelli also served her country in the U.S. Navy Reserves, and was encouraged by her dad to be a skilled welder. She wanted to pursue an apprenticeship because it enabled her to be paid while she finished her associate’s degree in business administration, and continue her passion for welding. Today, Kelli is a professional welder, a mom, and an apprenticeship graduate. She’s transformed her life, punched her ticket to the middle class, and has solid career opportunities ahead.

There are thousands of women, just like Kelli, that are taking care of their families, while pursuing a good job and an education through an apprenticeship. Moms like Martine, a mother of three girls, who was struggling to make ends meet, started a medical apprenticeship in New Hampshire and now has plans to become a nurse. Or Nancy, a single mom from Santa Barbara, California, who now earns more than $29 an hour as an electrical apprentice.

Apprenticeships offer a pathway to well-paying, middle class jobs, while also expanding opportunities to more Americans – including women and minorities. That’s why President Obama has been committed to doubling the number of apprenticeship opportunities over the next five years.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a $100 million investment to grow apprenticeship across the country and help companies start their own programs. The President’s FY16 budget proposes even more funding to support women in apprenticeships through a new, expanded grant program.

Right now we are working together with companies across the country to double and diversify the number of apprenticeships we have today. If your plumber or electrician was an apprentice, why not the pharmacy tech that fills your prescription, or the IT network manager at your office?

With the headwinds of the improving economy, and efforts to reach more companies to start their own program, we’re already moving the needle, adding nearly 50,000 apprenticeships over the last year. Today, more companies are making new commitments to expand, so more workers can gain the skills employers need without going into college loan debt.

We need more apprenticeships, so moms like Kelli can continue to pave a pathway to the middle class and beyond.

Kelli (back left) and her family

It’s been a continued period of excitement in the Apprenticeship community recently, highlighted by Apprenticeship’s important role in the April 24, White House Upskilling Summit.  The event provided an opportunity to engage employers and business leaders from a wide range of industries and encourage them to take steps to help realize the full potential of America’s workforce by empowering workers with the education and training they need to develop new skills and earn higher wages.  Over 100 of the nation’s leading employers participated, including approximately 20 newly-announced ApprenticeshipUSA LEADERS. 

These industry and employment leaders gathered to discuss strategies for advancing efforts to help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs.  Each of the participant organizations are making commitments to support and expand the Upskilling Initiative across the U.S., with Apprenticeship front and center as a leading strategy to do so.

The President and Vice President have highlighted the importance of this effort and stressed the need for industry and employer leaders to work together from employers and labor leaders, philanthropists and tech innovators, educators and workforce leaders...all committed to unlocking the potential of every American worker.  To learn more about the Upskilling Initiative, visit the White House’s Upskill website at, and read the Upskill Fact Sheet

During the event, Vice President Biden spoke about how critical the Upskilling effort is and how it will open up opportunity for workers to earn higher wages, and to spur business growth and help employers increase productivity. 
Watch Vice President Biden’s Upskilling Summit Remarks Here

Apprenticeship was at the center of the Upskilling Summit, with 20 newly-announced ApprenticeshipUSA LEADERS participating.  The goal of the ApprenticeshipUSA LEADERS initiative is to engage businesses across all industries to discuss the value of apprenticeships and to encourage greater adoption of this workforce training strategy. ApprenticeshipUSA Leaders are a great resource in promoting this effort.  Their commitment to the nation’s Upskilling initiative was clearly evident in the leadership they provided during the Summit.  

The President and the Secretary of Labor have made it clear that Apprenticeship plays a key role in the ongoing Upskilling effort.  Apprenticeship represents the gold standard in training to prepare workers for successful careers.  For more information on the ApprenticeshipUSA initiative, and more detail on how to become an ApprenticeshipUSA LEADER, we encourage you to read and download the following Fact Sheets. 

ApprenticeshipUSA Initiative Fact Sheet

ApprenticeshipUSA LEADERS Fact Sheet